The widely acclaimed movie Interstellar portrayed a very plausible fictitious future for our planet, where dirt and dust engulfed the greenery, spelling doom for mankind. In reality, the present scenario is quite identical in China and Africa, where aggravating desertification of lands has been robbing hundreds of their livelihoods. A 2013 report by United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) revealed that in the last four decades, over one-third of earth’s cultivable land has undergone desertification and degradation, rendering it unfit for any plant life. While overpopulation, mismanagement and unsustainable farming practices remain the primary causes, climate change also plays a major role in the disaster.
However, to combat the situation, people in China and Africa are undertaking massive-scale afforestation drives, better known as ‘Great Green Wall’, backed by their governments and international organisations like the United Nations. In Africa, 20 countries have cumulatively restored over 79 million acres of deserted land.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
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A similar project, dubbed as the ‘Great Green Wall of Africa’ was launched by the UNCCD in 2007, which if built, will stand tall to be the largest living structure in the world. Stretching across a distance of 8,000 km, the wall brings 20 African nations within its ambit, in the Sahel region of central Africa.
The UNCCD project page for the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel predicts it to be:
“By 2030, the ambition is to restore 100 million hectares of currently degraded land, sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon and create a minimum of 350,000 jobs in rural areas.”
The Central African region, once a treasure trove of the planet’s greenery, has faced rapid soil degradation since the 1970s, owing to abrupt population rise, poor land usage and obviously, global warming. The comparatively lesser developed regions of Africa, where people survive entirely upon primitive farming practices, have been the worst-hit, accentuated by drought and starvation.
Among the participant countries, Nigeria has succeeded in reforesting 12 million acres of land, while Senegal has planted drought-resistant trees in over 30 million acres. Ethiopia’s contribution stands at the top, amounting to 37 million acres of reforested land.
At present, the rate of completion of the project stands at 15%, reports Good News Network.
In China, the Gobi Desert has been expanding rapidly in the past half-century. The expansion accelerated following a severe drought in the late 1980s, enhanced by rampant deforestation, overuse and poor management of natural water resources and overgrazing, reported National Geographic in 2017. The report states that nearly 27.4% of land in China has been desertified, affecting 400 million lives.
In 1978, the Chinese government launched the Three-North Shelterbelt Project, also termed as the ‘Great Green Wall’, which necessitated a plantation initiative of 100 billion trees spanning a 4,500-km long stretch bordering the arid desert. The project, which will reach its deadline in 2050, has seen the planting of 66 billion trees so far.
Not only farmers but urban citizens of China have also extended a helping hand to make this dream project a reality. Innovative methods have been adopted in the project ranging from high-tech ones like aerial seeding to grassroots-level measures like incentives for farmers who do afforestation aside from crop cultivation.
Though some criticism has surfaced regarding how far the project has succeeded in stalling the desertification, there is no denying the fact that it remains one of the largest mass participation to save the planet.
Afforestation initiatives in Brazil, Australia and Pakistan
Aside from Africa and China, countries like Brazil, Australia and Pakistan have also shown significant sincerity in the restoration of their forested lands.
Australia’s ‘20 Million Trees Program’ envisions to control the devastating impacts of climate change, while in Brazil, non-profit organisations like Conservation International and Instituto Terra are converting nearly 75,000 acres of arid regions into lush forests. In 2014, Pakistan launched its Billion Tree Tsunami campaign which is working to afforest around 8.6 lakh acres of drylands.
A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.
My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.
About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss.
My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.
However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.
Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.
As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.
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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed.
This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.
What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation.
Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.
Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds.
Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma?
First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.
Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB?
The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment.
Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.
A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.